DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 18 April) — Instead of hastening the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat warns of further delay as the decision to go back to the BBL crafted by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) as basis for the plenary’s deliberations when sessions resume on May 15 means “we’re back to zero.”
Lobregat had objected to the decision Monday of the Committees on Muslim Affairs, and Peace, Reconciliation and Unity, to approve the omnibus motion to “retain as is” House Bill 6475 or the BTC-drafted BBL sponsored by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr. and 90 other representatives, instead of voting on the 362 proposed amendments to the working draft that had consolidated the four Bangsamoro bills, among them the BTC draft.
The Joint Committees on Local Government, Muslim Affairs, and Peace, Reconciliation and Unity, were supposed to have met for four days — April 16, 17, 18 and 19 — to vote on 362 proposed amendments to the working draft but the meeting was cut short on Monday when the two committees voted for the omnibus motion of Maguindanao Rep. and Deputy Speaker for Mindanao Bai Sandra Sema to “retain as is” HB 6475.
The Committee on Local Government voted 9-1 against Sema’s motion. But the motion was carried as two out of three committees voted for it through hands raising. For Sema’s motion, the Committee on Muslim Affairs voted 5-3 and the Peace Committee 6-4.
Lobregat is a member of the committees on Local Government and Peace.
Sema told MindaNews Monday that they cancelled the scheduled meetings on April 17, 18 and 19, because her motion was approved and HB 6475 will go direct to the plenary when sessions resume on May 15.
Even before the approval of the omnibus motion, however, doubts had already been cast if the BBL can be passed in the House when there are only eight session days between May 15 and the sine die adjournment on June 1. In the Senate, the substitute bill had been filed and it was on the interpellation stage when Congress adjourned for a break on March 21. Interpellations will continue when they resume sessions, followed by a period of amendments.
MILF leaders viewed the approval of Sema’s omnibus motion as a positive sign.
“My congratulations to all peace-loving leaders who are working with us so that just and dignified peace will prevail in our homeplace,” Ghazali Jaafar, the MILF’s 1st vice chair and concurrent BTC chair, told MindaNews on Monday.
Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the MILF Peace Implementing Panel sounded a bit more cautious. “We are relieved and happy, but the way ahead is still very challenging. The fight is not yet won,” he told MindaNews shortly after news on the approval of the omnibus motion broke out.
Iqbal was chair of the BTC during the Aquino administration’s attempt to pass the BBL.
MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim wasn’t able to reply on Monday but on Tuesday told MindaNews that the “success of the BBL version in the House Committe level is undoubtedly a step forward.”
He said they are “assured” that the BTC version will be the only bill that will be submitted to the plenary but admitted there are more challenges ahead.
“We are aware that the job is not done yet. We need to work further and be ready for the challenges ahead. We know there will still be many challenges ahead,” Murad said.
“…could have hastened”
Lobregat told MindaNews in a telephone interview Tuesday night that the House could have hastened the process of passing the BBL if the Joint Committees had voted on the BBL amendments as they had scheduled. He said he had several proposed amendments, particularly on provisions on what he described as “creeping expansion” of the Bangsamoro territory, questions on security aspects, and on the plebiscite, among others.
But all the efforts of the Joint Committees — consolidating the four Bangsamoro bills filed by Sema, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Khalid Dimaporo and the BTC draft sponsored by Alvarez, holding committee hearings in February and March in Mindanao, listening to the comments of national government agencies that had “very strong positions,” and convening several executive sessions — as well as the expenses incurred, were put to waste with the approval of Sema’s motion, he said.
“We’re back to zero,” he said. “If this was going to happen, why did we have to go through the process of working draft, committee hearings, etc..,'” he asked.
Lobregat joined the ruling party, PDP-Laban, in November 2017 but he said this will not stop him from interpellating the sponsors. “I was elected as representative of Zamboanga City,” he said, as he vowed to express the sentiments of his constituents.
The former Zamboanga City mayor holds the record of having clocked the most number of hours in interpellating BBL sponsors in 2015 –10 hours and 32 minutes in five days in June that year. Congress adjourned under the Aquino administration without passing the BBL.
“I am for peace. I am not anti-peace,” Lobregat said.
He said the BTC version or HB 6475, has been referred to as “version of the President but even the President “expressed doubts” about some provisions of the proposed law.
Lobregat cited Duterte’s speech on December 19 last year where he expressed doubts that the draft BBL would hurdle the test of constitutionality.
“I do not think that it (BBL) will hurdle constitutional — binabasa ko paulit-ulit (I’ve read it repeatedly) — the constitutional barriers,” Duterte said at the ceremonial signing of the 2018 General Appropriations Act and Tax Reform for Accelearation and Inclusion (TRAIN).
“Pero ‘pag hindi natin maibigay ‘yan (but if we can’t give that), kindly help me think of ways how to do it kasi, I said, the other choice is, if they’d go to war, it opens the floodgate of Mindanao to everybody else.”
Lobregat said that if the committees had gone through the whole process of voting on the 362 proposed amendments to the working draft, there would have been agreements already on the contentious issues and it would have been “easier in the plenary,” he said.
He explained that they had in fact agreed to disagree on some provisions of the proposed Bangsamoro law but had also managed to agree on certain provisions, particularly those involving constitutional bodies. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)